Zamboanga (AsiaNews) - The
Catholic Church opposes the construction of Mindanao mines to protect the
tribals from exploitation, but is branded as an ecologist and
"friend" of the Maoist rebel New
People's Army, in the name of "false progress" promoted by
unscrupulous mining industries. AsiaNews, anonymous for security reasons, thus
explain the smear campaign against the Church and religious involved in the
defense of indigenous peoples launched recently by Philippine and international
media. This media pillory, backed up by the army and paramilitary forces, is
endangering the lives of two nuns, Sister Stella Matutina, a Benedictine nun, and
Sister Julita Encarnacion, of the Sisters of the Assumption of Mary, accused by
the military of working with the Maoist rebels. "This - they stress - is
an old method used to discredit critics of billion-dollar projects that enrich
a few and impoverish many, passed off as a development opportunity for local
people, who instead suffer all kinds of abuses, including physical elimination.
Those who defend them are branded as a friend of the Maoists.
The clash between Filipino Church, army and institutions has arrived on the pages of foreign economic newspapers, who have not missed out on the opportunity to define bishops, priests and religious, as retrograde ecologists opposed to economic development.
May 15, the authoritative economic U.S. website Bloomberg published a long analysis accusing the Church and environmental groups in the Province of South Cotabato (Mindanao) together with the Maoists of obstructing the work of the world's fourth largest copper mining company Xstrata,. The article gives ample space to the company manager's version of his adventures in gaining approval for the project, putting the Church on the same level as environmental groups and NPA terrorists, as the main obstacles to the local population's development. According to the company, the mine is one of the most important investments made in recent years in the Philippines and would provide employment for more than 2 thousand people. The estimated gain is about 60 billion dollars in 20 years. This would result in an increase of 1% of national GDP.
The sources stress that "despite the possibility of huge profits, the project has been repeatedly rejected by local and central governments, because it is considered harmful to the environment and the lives of indigenous residents in the area. The mine would mean the destruction of hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest and is likely to pollute groundwater sources, forcing tribals to abandon their lands. "Often - they continue - companies do not care about the population. The indigenous people are helpless, because from the point of view of the industry, they produce nothing but occupy land that could enrich the country and its inhabitants. They may be sacrificed in the name of progress and economic development. "According to the source, missionaries, priests and activists, who oppose mining projects or interests of the army are branded as" friends of the Maoists " to justify any eventual arrest and even in sever cases assassinations in the eyes of public opinion. This was the case for several priests and journalists. Among them, Fr. Cecilio Luchero, priest and human rights activist killed by unknown assailants in September 2009 on the island of Samar and Ricardo Ganad, president of the Association of Baragay Captains di Vitoria (Mindoro), assassinated in February 2010 for obstructing the construction of nickel and gold mines.
Since 2006, the Filipino bishops' conference has been opposed to the "Program for the revitalization of the mines" launched by the then Arroyo government and carried on with some limitations by the current government of President Aquino. The project also allows the extraction to be extended to protected areas, including 17 important areas of biodiversity, 35 priority areas to be preserved and 32 national nature reserves. The bishops believe that the economic benefits promised by multinational mining companies do not compensate for the displacement of indigenous communities in particular, the risk to the health and living conditions and serious pollution. The mining areas remain among the poorest in the country ", because the mining companies" destroy the indigenous culture "and environment. October 2005 waste cyanide (used in gold panning) of a mine on the island of Rapu-Rapu, 380 km. southeast of Manila exterminated fish life leaving more than 3 000 families without a means to support themselves. In 1996 millions of tons of waste from a mine flowed into a river in the central island of Marinduque, causing an environmental disaster. (SC)